Prioritizing School Safety Has Never Been More Critical
Ensuring the safety of our schools has become a paramount concern shared by law enforcement, educators, parents, and concerned citizens alike. Substantial resources are now being dedicated to diminishing the threat of school shootings and other critical emergencies, with the ultimate goal of restoring schools as secure environments where students can wholeheartedly focus on their education.
However, effectively addressing the ongoing issue of rising school violence demands a multifaceted approach that encompasses a variety of strategies, such as the implementation of physical deterrents, the utilization of advanced security camera systems, fostering collaborative training initiatives between educational institutions and law enforcement agencies, and the adoption of additional technology and tools. All of these measures, of course, come with associated costs.
To tackle this challenge, various pieces of federal legislation have been passed that have create valuable funding opportunities for states and local communities to identify their specific safety needs and, in turn, initiate comprehensive programs aimed at reducing gun violence and cultivating safer, more positive school environments for both students and staff members.
Substantial Resources Dedicated to Reducing School Shootings
The unfortunate truth is that today’s students – across all grades – face a far more complex set of concerns than worrying about grades, extracurricular activities, and their social lives. While teachers and administrators still contend with everyday issues like students skipping class or engaging in hallway fights, today’s educators confront challenges that are considerably more daunting than those of previous generations.
According to the K-12 School Shooting Database, school shootings reached unprecedented levels in 2021 and 2022. The preceding year, in particular, stood as the most tragic on record, with 332 individuals being shot or wounded on K-12 school properties. These devastating occurrences understandably dominate the news cycle, and the fear of an active shooter looms over every educational institution.
Consequently, substantial resources are being channeled into efforts to reduce the likelihood of a school shooting or other critical emergencies. The ultimate objective is to restore schools as secure environments where students can concentrate on their learning. However, it’s essential to recognize that there is no single, all-encompassing solution to these complex challenges.
The Four Pillars of School Safety
Integrating voice, data, video, and analytics into a unified platform empowers schools to establish a comprehensive safety network that spans their campuses and properties, including school buses. The Safe Schools ecosystem offers a range of tools to enable educational institutions to:
- Control Entry Access: Regulate and monitor access to school premises.
- Monitor Suspicious Activity with Cameras: Utilize surveillance cameras to detect and deter suspicious behavior.
- Analyze Video: Employ video analytics to extract valuable insights from surveillance footage.
- Set Automatic Notifications: Configure automated alerts for specific events or breaches.
- Send Alert Messages: Disseminate instant alert messages to key personnel or the entire staff.
- Identify and Dispatch Response Resources: Quickly identify and deploy response teams when needed.
- Broadcast Mass Notifications: Communicate critical information to staff, parents, and guardians efficiently.
- Seamless Communication: Facilitate seamless communication among security staff, key personnel, and law enforcement.
- Optimize Response Times: Improve response times to emergency situations.
- Provide Critical Incident Insights: Leverage data to gain insights into critical incidents for enhanced safety.
- Gain Situational Awareness: Proactively respond to potential issues before they escalate.
In order to ensure that each of these initiatives is possible, it’s recommended that schools follow the Four Pillars of School Safety. This will ensure that they’re taking a holistic approach to designing their security infrastructure and planning so that no critical steps are left out and that they can explore the implementation of a single, unified platform that allows for a comprehensive safety system.
Detection technology, like door access control systems, enhances situational awareness by instantly identifying individuals at specific access points or restricted areas and triggering alerts when there is a breach. Video camera systems and analytics further expand situational awareness by monitoring activities across campuses, detecting unusual behavior, and even recognizing persons of interest, such as suspended students or disruptive individuals.
Video analytics can automatically identify unusual behavior and send alerts to security personnel or administrators. Appearance searches and tracking capabilities allow for quick identification and monitoring of individuals, preventing potential escalations. Analytics tools also help monitor the location of response resources, ensuring swift and informed responses to incidents.
Clear and immediate communication among school personnel is crucial for effective responses. Communication tools within the Safe Schools ecosystem enable instant one-to-one or one-to-many communication, ensuring that security personnel, administrators, teachers, bus drivers, and other staff can share vital information and coordinate responses seamlessly. Mass notifications can also be sent to parents and guardians when necessary.
Different situations require different responses and response teams. The integrated ecosystem allows personnel to submit alarms at varying severity levels, ensuring that the appropriate response teams are dispatched promptly. Critical Connect facilitates collaborative responses by enabling interoperable communication among school security, administrators, and local first responders during critical situations.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) Helps Improve School Safety
In June 2022, President Biden took a significant step in enhancing the safety of schools by signing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) into law. This legislation marked a historic moment as it allocated substantial funding to support educational agencies and elevate the overall security of schools. The primary focus of the BSCA is to expand mental health services and offer vital assistance to states and districts in identifying their specific safety requirements, with the overarching goal of helping implement initiatives that foster safer and more positive school environments for students and staff members.
The BSCA also allocates funding for a diverse array of initiatives, including the installation of security cameras, advanced door locks, and other physical security measures, while also supporting training programs for educators and staff to equip them with the skills and knowledge necessary to respond effectively to violent incidents within school premises. Notably, the BSCA also allocates resources for the presence of school resource officers—trained law enforcement personnel stationed within schools to enhance security and provide a sense of safety to the school community.
This funding is aimed at equipping schools with clear emergency plans and the necessary resources to enhance safety on their campuses. The ultimate goal is to create a secure environment for students, teachers, and staff.
Key aspects of this funding include:
- Improving Safety Infrastructure: The BSCA funding can be used to enhance safety infrastructure within schools. This may involve measures such as the installation of security cameras, upgraded door locks, and other physical security enhancements.
- Professional Development: The funding also supports professional development initiatives. This training is essential for creating safe and inclusive learning environments, conflict resolution, and connecting students with the necessary support services.
- Recommended Strategies: The Department of Education suggests that districts and associated staff utilize the funding to implement professional development strategies that are sustained, intensive, collaborative, data-driven, and focused on the classroom.
Stronger Connections Grant Program (SCG)
The legislation also includes the Stronger Connections Grant Program (SCG), allocating $1 billion through Title IV, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Act to state education agencies. These agencies, in turn, competitively award subgrants to local education agencies (LEAs) with the greatest need for school safety improvements. The availability of Stronger Connections funds will last until September 30, 2026.
States have the flexibility to determine how best to utilize this funding to improve school and community safety, with allocations based on factors like the number of schools, student population, and overall safety needs. This approach ensures equitable distribution of funds across states regardless of their size or political affiliations.
States are encouraged to prioritize the following when distributing BSCA funds:
- Implementing comprehensive, evidence-based strategies that address students’ social, emotional, physical, and mental well-being, promote inclusive and supportive school environments, and increase access to intervention services.
- Engaging students, families, educators, staff, and community organizations in selecting and implementing safety strategies.
- Designing policies and practices that advance equity, protect student rights, and respect student dignity.
Understanding The Stronger Connections Grant Guidelines
When it comes to applying for the Stronger Connection Grant, LEAs should focus on the above-listed priorities while exploring innovative approaches to improving school safety. Awards for Stronger Connections funds are competitive and administered by state education agencies, so LEAs should stay informed about their state’s guidelines.
Additionally, when LEAs consider purchasing equipment, it’s essential to review the state’s Stronger Connections Grant guidelines to ensure compliance with policies related to video systems, discrimination, privacy concerns, and the involvement of stakeholders in developing safety measures. Familiarity with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is also critical when working with school resource officers and law enforcement units in matters involving photos and videos.
Here are some important steps that LEAs can take to get ready for this funding opportunity:
Review State Grant Allocations
LEAs should begin by examining their State Education Agency’s (SEA) grant allocations. Understanding the funding available at the state level will help LEAs plan their grant requests effectively.
Once the state’s guidelines for the SCG become available, LEAs should thoroughly review them. This includes examining goals, objectives, deliverables, allowable and unallowable costs, and the state’s definition of a “high-need LEA.”
Tailor the Plan
LEAs should aim to develop a comprehensive and evidence-based school safety program that aligns with their state’s priorities. However, it’s essential to customize the plan to address the specific safety needs of their school community.
Seeking input from stakeholders is critical in the development of school safety interventions. This includes involving parents, community organizations, educators, and school staff in the planning process.
SCG is a competitive grant, and awards are based on the highest need. LEAs should be prepared to demonstrate their high-need status based on factors such as a need for additional mental health staff, chronic absenteeism rates, exclusionary discipline, referrals to the juvenile justice system, bullying incidents, community and school violence, homelessness among students, and more.
LEAs should gather data to support their high-need status according to the SEA’s definition. Completing a risk assessment and reviewing the school climate plan can further strengthen their case.
LEAs should familiarize themselves with the Stronger Connections Grant FAQs to gain a comprehensive understanding of the grant’s requirements and processes.
Download our five-step checklist: The Road To Your Education Grant.
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